BLOOMINGTON — The Indiana football team majors in heartbreak. If there is an improbable, quirky way to lose a game, the Hoosiers will figure out how to do it. Maybe Elvis Presley looked into a crystal ball long ago and sang “Heartbreak Hotel” about these guys.
Saturday, in their final home game of the 2023 season, IU almost defeated Michigan State, coulda, at least, in a showdown of two Big Ten have-nots. The Spartans were on the ropes, yet bested the Hoosiers, 24-21, at Memorial Stadium.
That was after it appeared Indiana seemed to seal victory with four minutes left and despite a potentially tying 48-yard field goal going awry instead of provoking overtime.
And this was a week after the Hoosiers lost to Illinois, 48-45, in overtime, and previously scared nationally ranked Penn State and nationally ranked Louisville.
“Very frustrating,” said IU coach Tom Allen about the loss to Michigan State, but a phrase that he could have applied to all of those near-misses. “Obviously our guys had a chance to go win the game defensively. Didn’t do it.”
Nobody was talking about failing to claim the Old Brass Spittoon, the bauble that is at stake when these teams meet, but players were candid about the mood in their closed locker room being depressed after this loss.
“Going out like that, how it went was sad,” said defensive back Louis Moore, especially for the seniors. “It’s just a real emotional locker room right now. We wanted to win for them, really.”
Michigan State, 4-7, has had an upsetting season, as well, coach Mel Tucker being fired early on after an allegation of sexual harassment arose and the team run on an interim basis by Harlon Barnett. Michigan State has resembled in-state and league mate Michigan (11-0) in name only. That is, except for a few stretches when Indiana could not main possession for more than four downs at a time, Saturday.
The Spartans led 7-0 and 14-7 before IU knotted it at 14. The fourth quarter produced a game’s worth of suspense, with Michigan State moving in front 17-14 and then IU, 21-17. QB Kaitin Houser threw for 245 yards and three TDs for the Spartans.
The key was Michigan State moving 75 yards in less than three minutes after Indiana took its final lead. The winning score came on an acrobatic play with 1 minute, 19 seconds left. Houser fired the ball over the middle to Maliq Carr, who seized the ball with a one-hand grab, bounced off an Indiana tackler, spun around and ran 36 yards into the end zone.
IU quarterback Brendan Sorsby threw for two touchdowns, one each for James Bomba and Trey Walker, Walker’s 8-yarder being the first of his career.
“In the moment it was great, I was ecstatic.” Walker said. Obviously, we would have liked to pull off a win after that but in the moment it was awesome.”
Mostly, the Hoosiers pounded the ball downfield in the second half more than throwing it. Trent Howland gained 77 yards and Josh Henderson gained 74 and IU rushed for 210 yards.
“We ran the ball really well. Our offensive line played great all game,” Sorsby said. “I feel like we executed whenever we needed to. We have to put some other drives together too. We can’t just have three good drives. We have to string together some more.”
Even after Michigan State scored its deflating touchdown, Indiana made a run. As IU drove from its own 25-yard-line, things got funky. When the Hoosiers reached the Spartan 27 with 22 seconds to go, Allen called for Sorsby to throw got the goods in the end zone.
Aimed for E.J. Williams, the ball fell hopelessly to the ground, although there was much sentiment Michigan State was guilty of pass interference or holding. And Sorsby was whistled for intentional grounding, another iffy call, pushing kicker Chris Freeman back a few extra yards.
“It’s frustrating,” Moore said of officials’ calls and no-calls. “It happens.”
Something like that always seems to happen to Indiana. It always seems to be a weird bounce or development that costs an Indiana win. Fans hit themselves in the head watching, but imagine how maddening it can be for those directly involved.
“It’s pretty frustrating knowing that we’re taking it down to the end of the fourth quarter in the last few minutes and not putting it all together at the end,” said linebacker Aaron Casey.